Reaping the Benefits

You know how after every single ride I spaz out about how great my horse is and how much I love him? Hope you’re not sick of that yet ’cause it’s still a thing. Sorry not sorry.

I’m really just overjoyed at how much he’s taking care of me lately. I’m not nearly in the shape I was a few months ago, my mental focus is pretty scattered, and I went around half the ring yesterday on the wrong diagonal before my trainer’s laughter caught my attention.

20 years of riding under professional instruction. And I forgot to check my diagonal.

So yeah, clearly I’m not “all there” for him right now. You know how he handles it? Happy ears, obediently going left when I have an oh-crap-turn-left-not-right moment, toting my potato butt around without complaint. It’s awesome.

I have to share our course because of how cool it was. Trainer said it was an adaptation from the West Coast 3’3″ Jumper Seat Medal Finals that happened last week- I love finals season because we get to try out all the fun Big Eq courses! We sometimes have to tweak a bit for the shape/size of the arena but they’re always fun to play with. Here it is:

west coast gymnastic course

So it’s corner oxer, forward bending 4 strides to bounce, shaped short 5 out over the natural; other natural to box in a flowing 4, s-turn out over blue in a short 4; up the outside line in a one to a three; then other s-turn also in a forward 4 to short 4.

Phew!

This course was SO MUCH FUN. Lots of rating our stride bigger and smaller and focusing on our track. That one stride to the three felt incredible. I was a Big Eq Princess in that moment. It just came up perfectly and I could sit there and look pretty as my horse flowed effortlessly through. I think that’s what being on drugs must feel like because I am jonesing for another hit of that.

I guess I’m just really thrilled with how easy this all felt for him. It was ok that I wasn’t all there giving him explicit instructions, because he didn’t really need that much input despite the technicality of the course. He rated easily, he was prompt off my leg and forward-thinking, he was straight up easy to ride.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked really hard to educate him to the job. It’s been a joy and has gone quite smoothly, but it’s definitely still been a lot of sweat and time. And I plan to continue putting in the sweat and the time to continually improve both of our abilities.

But right now in this in-between where I’m not super actively training, I feel like I’m getting to sit back and enjoy the outcome of all that hard work. I’m simply enjoying my incredibly well-trained horse.

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Also really enjoying his love of drinking from the hose ❀

 

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Hello Please Hold

EVERYBODY STOP THE PRESSES WE ARE DOING A LESSON RECAP FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A MILLION YEARS.

I had my first group lesson in a while with some of my barnmates- my friend on her fancy hunter, one of the juniors on her fancy eq horse, and a fellow ammy on her brand new 4yo hunter (who is SWOON gorgeous). Basically a sea of beautiful horses and riders and then me and my chunky overgrown pony.

Francis was…fine. It’s not that he was bad or disobedient, it just felt kinda like when you call a customer care center and they put you on hold. They eventually pick up. When they dang sure feel like it and not one second sooner. He did not feel as eager to play the game as he usually does. Granted- it was a trillion degrees out and humid, and he’s pretty out of shape (still weeping softly that he lost fitness SO FRICKIN’ FAST) so I’m not surprised that he wasn’t the most fiery and adjustable. We took lots of walk breaks to stretch and rest.

I’m going to ignore the other jumps we did so I can show you this gymnastic. I think Trainer said she got it from McLain or something, so you know it’s gotta be good.

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It’s a canter in to a crossrail, bounce to a small oxer, then two strides to another small oxer with a ground pole placed as marked. We only did it a few times due to the heat, but I think this was a really useful exercise for Frankenbean.

The bounce to the wide oxer meant that we had to come in with plenty of power to press across, but then he had to rate himself back for the two stride. My job was to keep my leg on, follow with my hand, and let him figure himself out. Educating him to adjust himself like that is something we’ve been constantly working on since it doesn’t come naturally to him.

It’s funny- he’s a super duper easy horse to ride in the sense that if you tell him to do something, you can absolutely trust that he will do that thing. But I’ve had some people hop on and tell me that can make him a tougher ride for beginners for exactly that reason- he needs a lot of input to know what he’s supposed to do and they’re not equipped to manage that. He’s just not a super independent thinker. Food for thought.

After getting a nice trip through the gymnastic where we got some softness and good pace, I asked to be done on that note. I felt like I had been low-key arguing with Frankie all evening to get him on board with the plan, and wanted to reward him for listening and agreeing to play the game.

I also signed him up for a massage next week as a preemptive measure. We’re trying to get him back into *moderately good* shape which likely means some tired muscles, and I don’t want him getting sore and cranky about being back in a program. Yes, I signed my horse up for a massage because he felt a little less unicorn-y than usual in one lesson. It’s a new level of spoiling the Big Beast. BUT HE’S REAL CUTE AND DESERVES IT.

We have an official schedule for who is riding him on different days of the week, which is just in time for my trip north this weekend for wedding stuffs. 93 days left to go and I can’t even wait.

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We’re gonna take family pics like this together until we’re all old and decrepit

Random quick PSA- if you’re ever in the mood for a pick-me-up, look at the Highlights marked “Snugs” on my Instagram. It’s exclusively pics and videos of Francis being a sweet bean. I figure if it makes me so happy to see it, maybe it’ll make other people happy too πŸ™‚

Ow. My Legs.

Before I get into talking about how my legs hurt so much, I have to tell you about my meetup with Liz and Austen!! We got to meet up (huskies in tow) out in Middleburg for lunch, and it was so fantastic to be able to just talk ponies and cocktails. It’s the funniest feeling meeting blog friends in real life- even though it was our first time seeing each other in the real world, it felt like we already knew each other so well. I was hoping they would have time to come meet Frankie, and even more fantastically they had their cameras with them!

It was so lovely to get to introduce them to Frankie. I know I may be biased because I’m his mother, but there is something so special about that horse and I love getting to share that spark with friends. He was enthralled with the huskies and was on the lookout for scritches the whole time. We even popped Liz and Austen up for a brief ride- Frankie was a bit confused that he still had to work, but was happy enough to go be a good goober for both of them. It makes my heart so happy to see him go be such a good soul. Bonus: I have so many absolutely gorgeous pictures to share with you guys!!

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This one is absolutely getting framed. Liz, somehow you managed to capture Frankie so beautifully and with such kindness, and it brings tears to my eyes.

Now on to my muscle soreness: we have officially entered the era of private lessons once more. It’s been two weeks with my new flex schedule and while it’s been a bit of an adjustment to get out the door earlier in the mornings, it’s ABSOFREAKIN’ FANTASTIC. I may never be able to go back to a normal schedule again, you guys. So far we’ve had two (incredible) private lessons on Friday afternoons, and here are some jumbled thoughts that I have so far:

  • In our first lesson, we did not jump a single fence. We worked on correct transitions, channeling our energy straight and powerfully, and convincing Frankie that I know what I’m doing up top (which is only sometimes true, but he doesn’t need to know that). I was sweaty and dying by the end.
  • Frankie absolutely can and should carry himself, and he is smart enough to know that historically I have not insisted on this. He does not test Trainer or AT. He does test me- which is fair. We had a few mini-tantrums when I continued to insist, but once we pushed past that he gave me INCREDIBLE work. He’s pretty sure this whole “work super hard to build muscle and self-carriage” thing is bogus, but he seems to be resigning himself to it.
  • THIS IS SO FREAKIN’ HARD. My muscles are so sore. Like, muscles that I don’t usually use for riding are sore. Which is actually also super encouraging, because it means that I’m moving in different ways and the whole point of this is to be doing things differently and better. But ow. Seriously, ow.
  • Francis is, as always, my tattletale. My leg comes off? Head immediately pops up and he totally inverts. I stop engaging my core? Prancing jigging steps. He is happy to work, but only as hard as I am. And he will not give me what I’m asking unless I ask properly, which makes him such an excellent teacher! Luckily he’s patient as I work through all the ways to *not* ask properly before landing on the right way.
  • He needs to respect this new bit- he cannot park on the end of it like he did with the snaffle. If he learns to park on this bit, we have just lost all our adjustability that we gained with the additional leverage. This is why I must insist on that self-carriage, and it’s why my trainer didn’t entrust me with this type of bit until quite recently.
  • Rewards must be quick and frequent. As soon as I feel him soften, I must soften in return- but not until I get that softening. Reward the good, and respond to resistance with consistent but firm correction. Set him up to answer correctly so that we can reward often.
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We take breaks when we are a good pony. PC- Liz
  • When we have the right canter, we don’t need to see a spot. In our last lesson, I felt like I nailed every single distance to every single fence. Some were a little longer or shorter than others, but every single one felt powerful and out of stride. He was so adjustable and powerful that getting to that right spot was downright easy, and he rewarded me by cracking his back over the fences- I got popped out of the tack a few times because of the strength of his effort!
  • Riding him more strongly and insisting on more is downright addicting. Of course he’s always a blast to ride, but feeling that balance and power underneath me is the most incredible feeling. I was grinning through my entire last ride. I was also panting and sweating trying to get all my muscles to move in concert, but I was on the verge of giggling as I felt Frankie round up into the bridle and push. I didn’t ever want to hop off.
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“Do not want work, pls stop.” (as I gasp for air) PC- Liz

In a nutshell, I’m trying to learn how to ride Frankie like my trainer rides Frankie. And it’s really really hard and a lot of work and everything hurts and it is so incredibly fun as we both learn the rules of the game.

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THE SWEETEST SNOOT. PC- Liz

Muscles are sore, heart is full, and I’m so beyond thrilled with the Big Best Beast.

Thoroughbred Francis

What do you get when you have the chiropractor out to make your horse feel good, but then they get stuck in their stall for two days because of the snow?

You get a Francis who is acting like a bona fide TB. No more WB. Just TB.

Now, I don’t mean OMG HE WAS CRAZY AND FAST. Because our barn is full to the gills of TBs and OTTBs, and exactly zero of them are crazy or fast. Including the babies right off the track. Also can you imagine Francis being crazy? Because I can’t (even his foolishness is not crazy).

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Nooo, I is never naughty

But he was very much in the mentality of YOU WANNA PULL I WILL PULL RIGHT BACK LADY. And it wasn’t malicious or cranky, he was just feeling really good and wanted to go do his thang.

He was a very good boy warming up, pushing from behind and quite responsive. A titch fast at the canter- our lengthenings felt a little more lengthy than usual, and our collections felt a little more bouncy than usual too- but he felt nice and bendy and bouncy. All good things.

He bounded over a crossrail a few times to warm up, then we switched directions, and he did his fun root-n-play move around our next course. Meaning I just kinda slipped my reins, kept my leg on, and gave extra big releases over the fences to reward his big effort. Useful to work through together? Yes. AIN’T NO FUN THO.

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“You’re not exactly a barrel of laughs all the time either, lady”

So the next course, I was determined to not pick a fight. I was not going to engage. I was going to stay super duper soft through my hands, keep a steady leg, and a light seat.

And all of a sudden, happy Francis was right there with me, cantering around so softly and turning left like a dang professional.

I got a head toss in the next course when I used too much hand.

And then as soon as I softened at him, he softened right back. Lovely little stride, stepping under, straight through his body. Absolutely delightful.

I think absolutely none of this is groundbreaking stuff for anyone, but it was certainly an adjustment in how I usually have to ride my horse. He’s always been a “more” type of horse- add more leg, take more feel, get in the driving seat. He’s such a chill dude that any urgency has to come from me. So getting to practice that softness without sacrificing the strength was a majorly useful exercise for both of us.

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THROW AWAY THE REINS. BUT NOT LIKE, ALL THE WAY. BUT A LOT OF THE WAY. NOT THAT MUCH. MAYBE MORE THO. IDK.

I’m really happy with how he feels after getting adjusted- the chiro mentioned that he noticed some tightness in his back and pelvis, and he feels noticeably looser and more flexible under saddle now. We’re also working with our saddle fitter to get things 100% perfect on that front (we’re getting closer!), he’ll continue to get chiro semi-regularly, I may look into massage, and our vet is coming out in April to do a full exam and a lameness locator baseline evaluation. He’s going to compare these to his notes from Frankie’s pre-purchase to see what/if any changes have taken place, and we’ll decide from there what strategy we’ll pursue moving forward.

So we’re coming at this wellness thing from several angles, and I’m really excited about it. I want to make sure he’s feeling 100% in every way before asking him to jump into a busy show season, and my trainers are completely on board with that. They’ve agreed that the outcomes of all these measures will determine what our show season looks like- Frankie will tell us what kind of workload he can comfortably support.

On that note, I am incredibly grateful for the team of people that works to keep Frankie feeling his best. My trainers could be making more money off of me by pushing me to compete, but they always put Frankie’s health and happiness above everything else. They’re not just fantastic coaches and trainers, but excellent role models for good horsemanship. Our vet cares so deeply about the horses, and has never tried to throw unnecessary treatments at us. Our farrier is just straight up ridiculously competent. There’s this whole crew of amazingly knowledgeable people working in concert to make sure the horses aren’t just sound, but happy and healthy and enjoying their work.

It looks like our next show is penciled in for the end of May, so I’m excited to spend the next couple months honing in hard on Frankie’s well-being. Add in some hacks around the neighborhood once it warms up, and I think we will have a majorly strong, flexible, happy, goofy, fancy show horse on our hands.

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And the cutest show horse. Always the cutest.

Earth to Francis

We all know that Frankie is a perfect angel, right? Never does anything remotely bad, is rock solid 100% of the time?

Frankie decided to use this cold snap to remind me that he is not, in fact, the pretty pony on the merry-go-round. He is a horse. With opinions (even if they rarely make an appearance).

It started last weekend in my lesson- we warmed up on the flat just fine, popped over a few crossrails, and then the wheels fell off. Frankie discovered that when he sneezed, rooted, and humped his back just so, he could pull the reins right out of my hands. LIKE A JERK.

We would head up to a jump (tiny ones in short courses bc omg cold), he would canter up like a normal horse, jump it like a horse who has done this a thousand times, then his brain would fall out his butt and he would land porpoising until I pulled him up in a heap.

Every. Time.

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MAHM MUST PLAY

And I won’t pretend to any startling feats of bravery here: while I never felt unseated, it definitely did kick some nerves into play. It didn’t feel dangerous, just entirely unenjoyable and yucky. For that lesson, we ended up doing a bunch more flatwork to get our brains back in our skulls and get my own body to stop emitting PANIC vibes.

Listen, I get it: the temp had plummeted, he hadn’t gotten much turnout time for a few days, it was windy, all these things would make any horse fresh. And all things considered, it wasn’t dangerous or malicious behavior- it was a fit horse with a lot of excess energy that simultaneously wanted to play but also get out of work. It isn’t hard to figure out why this happened.

Still annoying as hell tho.

Fast forward to Thursday, which was equally cold and gross and turnout-less. In the interest of self-preservation, I asked Trainer if I could lunge Francis for 10-15 min before hopping on to let him move out and warm up and let out any silliness. And yes, if you were wondering: this was my first time lunging him. Homeboy hasn’t really needed it in the past.

Luckily, his unicorn status held and he lunged like he does it every day (after a quick reminder that coming into the middle is invasive and rude and not allowed). I say luckily, because I spent most of the time trying to organize the line and half-heartedly clucking at him. Good boy Francis.

So I hopped on, very pleased that we had warmed him up and let him work out some energy.

Until we cantered and he remembered that rooting and pulling and humping was super fun last time. DANGIT FRANCIS NOT AGAIN.

So we borrowed a gag converter from AT and set off again.

gag converter
Example: it goes through the bit rings and up through the brow band, then a second set of reins attaches and gives the gag action.

And the next time he tried to dive down, we had a bit of an Earth To Francis moment with the leverage. Which he did not like. So he cantered like a normal horse in a straight line. And then tried again. Earth To Francis. Rinse. Repeat. Multiple times in each direction.

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MAHM NO STAHP

Eventually he realized that the pressure only hit when he was acting the fool, so he stopped acting the fool. We did a few little courses to confirm that we had a balanced, thinking horse under us, then called it a day.

And I promptly went out and ordered my own gag converter.

I will say, I actually liked the feeling of the gag more than the three-ring we tried before. Especially with the double reins, it was easy to engage when I needed a little extra lightness in the front end, and chuck away when we were doing fine- by our last mini-course, I didn’t need to engage it at all. I plan on using the converter for a while, then potentially getting a regular gag bit to try out. We shall see.

The countdown is on for WEC! 43(ish) days until Frankie and I head west for a few weeks.

Coming up soon: telling you all about my AMAZING Secret Santa gift, some product reviews of things that are making my winter hibernation more bearable, and continued ramblings from yours truly.

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See, we can be cute

 

A Little Leverage

So for my birthday, we tried out a new bit with Francis- specifically, the bit that AT uses with him when she rides. It’s a copper mouth French-link elevator, as such:

elevator bit
Just with a copper mouth

We started out with my main rein on the snaffle ring and the curb rein on the first ring down, to give me a change to get used to having a little leverage. From a mouthpiece standpoint, I did really like the French link- it felt like Frankie was softening to it a bit more than either the plain snaffle or the slow twist I’ve used in the past.

After warming up a bit and getting my “sea hands” so to speak, we took off the curb and then moved my main rein down so we could test this out for real. Overall I do really like it- it’s definitely a big adjustment for me in how I need to ride and it was far from perfect, but it did give us some tools that I was happy about.

The trot work in this was…eh. Francis was bracing and we had to focus on lots of bending and take-release-take-release for him to realize that while I wasn’t going to just hang on his face, I did expect him to carry himself upright and not hang on me in return. The canter work was a lot better, which I wasn’t surprised by. His canter is naturally his best gait, and he’s always had much better carriage and balance in the canter than in the trot no matter what bit is in his mouth. It was much easier for me to keep a light touch on the reins, give with that inside hand a bit more, and allow him to carry me without as much of a “discussion” on who has to hold his head up.

Then it was time to jump, and in this lesson we focused on some more interesting turns with the jumps set low. I was a bit surprised while we were warming up- Frankie was really cracking his back and putting in an effort over the crossrails we were trotting, which is rare for him. I actually got caught off guard a couple times and got a little left behind, so I tried to make sure I slipped my reins when that happened so he didn’t get punished in the mouth for doing his job.

After warming up, here was our first course:

dec21_lesson1

So we trot in the crossrail on the rail, rollback to the box, turn left and long approach down to the little oxer, canter up the long side, and then go straight down the middle by slicing- either a direct 2 or a teeny shaped 3.

My goal was to ride the first jump BEFORE riding the turn, which meant packaging him up and not throwing my shoulders at him. The rollback went much better when we stopped trying to get perpendicular to the jump and instead sliced it straight towards the end of the ring. The long approach was just fine, and he opened up his step nicely to put the two strides in the middle line.

With this new bit, my focus was to release more with my hands both over fences and in between, and rely more on my legs. It gives me great shortening ability and I don’t want to accidentally shorten too much. It doesn’t come second-nature yet, but that focus on controlling his stride from my seat and legs more intensely gave us much better turns and control of that shoulder.

Here was our other course:

dec21_lesson2

So short approach down the box, up the outside line in a flowing three, down the oxer sliced right to left to give us room to turn up the center line to do that in a flowing two the other direction.

I tend to have a tough time coming out of that corner up to 2, so we ended up getting a bit of a chocolate chip- but he listened fantastically and opened up to put the three in without a problem anyways. We had set jump 3 a little bigger to give him a chance to stretch and he jumped it really nicely.

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Well, nice is a strong word. Still cute tho.

Then the last part of the course was good- I didn’t keep as straight as I should’ve going up the center so it got a bit gappy, but not terribly ugly.

Overall this lesson was a really good test of working with some leverage. It’ll take some time for both of us to adjust and fine-tune with this new tool, but I do think it’s a great option for us to explore. My big concern is that I’m used to carrying a certain amount of weight with the snaffle, and with this I need to carry much less weight for a similar response. I like that I can be lighter with him and that he seems to like the mouthpiece, so now it’s just a matter of training myself to feel his responses and tweak how I carry my hands accordingly. Especially when we get him fired up and jumping the big jumps, I think this is a step in the right direction to have something that he seeks the contact with and is gentle on his mouth, but still gives me the control to get the adjustability we’ll need to safely get around.

Flying up to Rhody tonight for Christmas with the fam, and I can’t wait to see them all! Stay safe on all of your travels!

Grids on grids on grids

While I’m still totally reveling in the fact that I’ve conned an actual Prince Charming into marrying me, I’ve also been having some great rides with my four-legged prince! Our last couple lessons have been gymnastic-focused. You all know how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE gymnastics!

Last week we didn’t do anything too crazy- my lungs have been taking a stupid long time to recover from my swamp illness, and I’ve been riding inconsistently, so we kept the jumps fairly low and just worked on building some strength back.

Which means that after going through a couple times, Trainer had me drop my stirrups. Which honestly- I don’t mind. It forces my balance to be more centered and my leg actually stays a lot more stable since I can’t brace against the stirrup. I keep threatening to go in the show ring without my stirrups since I ride so much more correctly. It’s annoying.

I jokingly asked Trainer if she wanted me to drop my reins too, which clearly she immediately said yes to. I mean I wasn’t doing a ton with them anyways- Frankie knows that his job is to continue through the grid, so it’s not like I was steering. Hands on hips it was! Like an absolute bro, Francis carried me right on through a couple times and let me strengthen my balance.

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Apparently hands on hips means chicken wings. Also I know the jump isn’t huge but maybe put in a little bit of effort dude.

I then pressured Trainer into letting me join an extra lesson this week, since I so rudely did not get one on Saturday. Clearly the whole day was a wash.

This was another gymnastic lesson, but we switched it up a bit. We wanted to try and address some of Frankie’s very prominent left drift (which is made even more prominent by my disgustingly weak left leg). So I carried a dressage whip on my left through the grid.

Francis was also freshly clipped and had lots of gas in the tank during our warmup. Well, at the trot. By the time we moved into our canter work, he remembered that holding still is more fun than not holding still. But I actually rode without a crop or spurs for the first time and we kept moving! So I’d consider that spicy in FrancisWorld.

Another thing you should know is that Frankie jumps SO MUCH BETTER when he’s annoyed. You may remember back at Zone Finals where we riled him up for our second warmup and got much better work from him. He doesn’t buck or bolt or spook or sass when he’s pissed off- he just jumps out of his skin. He’s literally a unicorn, it’s the actual best response ever. And you know what really annoys him? Being smacked behind my leg. It doesn’t need to be a big smack. It can be a little tickle from a dressage whip. Nothing gets him pinning his ears and cracking his back quite like it.

So between a new haircut and that dressage whip in my hand, Francis went through that grid with the roundest bascule I’ve ever felt from him. It was SUCH fantastic energy firing off the ground! He was pretty sure life was miserable DESPITE LITERALLY NOTHING BEING DIFFERENT BECAUSE I BARELY TOUCHED HIM WITH THE WHIP but it was an awesome workout for him and good practice getting the fire in his step.

Naturally, we jacked the last jump up to give him a bit of a challenge- a nice square oxer that we set up at 4′. He just flew. It was amazing. Trainer let me go back and do it again, but the deal was that I couldn’t have my stirrups. He still flew, and took me with him. Landed cantering away casually while I was up there grinning like an idiot. I swear, jumping over colorful sticks with this creature is the best feeling in the entire world.

This all made me that much more excited to try some bigger tracks with him. He clearly has the scope for it, he was barely trying over that last oxer. And now that we’ve figured out that he jumps much more correctly (and therefore much more safely) once we rile him up a bit, I think we’ll be able to up the ante on course. This will never be his “normal,” but it’s something we can practice.

He definitely gets very strong when he’s like that, but at the same time he’s so much more adjustable since we have all that impulsion from behind. We’ll need to play around with bits to give us something that gives me the leverage to channel this energy without backing him off. We have a couple good ideas that we’re going to test.

His favorite little barn rat will give him some rides while I go up north for Christmas, then we’re counting down to WEC! We’ll probably fit in one local show to do the 3′ eq and one B one-day to do the Highs in January as our kickoff to the season, then it’s off to Ohio for two weeks. I. Can’t. Wait.

If I don’t talk to y’all before then, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, very happy holidays, and get to spend lots of time with the people and creatures you love!

Slicez 4 Dayz

You already know it’s been pretty quiet on the lesson front lately due to travel and enough mucus buildup to last me three lifetimes, but Frankie and I got some good work in last week.

Our warmup was pretty standard, lots of lengthenings and shortenings to make sure we were speaking the same language. We threw in some really tight circles at the canter to test our ability to sit down and push out of the turns- I kept making moderately smallish sized ones and Trainer challenged me to ask harder for some tougher turns so that we aren’t just doing what we always do. It was a great reminder that we can and should up the ante with expectations around our flatwork! It ended up being really useful practice of helping each other balance and maintain the power even through tight turns- setting us up with some super useful jumpoff skillz.

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Unrelated he’s just really cute at posing in the snow

We started off with a few crossrails to start limbering up, then did an exercise where we trotted a crossrail across the diagonal, cantered through the end of the ring, cantered up a small vertical across the diagonal the other way, then halted in a straight line. We had to remember to ride the jump before the halt- when I started picking too much trying to get a small jump, we ended up having a messy chip and then the halt was harder because we were unbalanced. Once we got some RPMs going and jumped out of stride with more power, the halt came up much more easily because of how balanced he was between my leg and hand.

Then it was gymnastic time! Here’s the grid:

slant gymnastic

Yessirree, the jumps were set this way on purpose! The centers were all set a steady one stride apart- and by steady I mean short. Any attempt to give yourself some room by jumping one side would just screw you over in the next stride- there were definitely a few bounces thrown in there by some of the more exuberant jumpers.

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Straight shot down the middle

Despite a persistent left drift to singles, Francis knows that his job through grids is to go straight until explicitly told otherwise, and he rocked this grid like a pro. Our challenge was finding the right pace in- too much, and we made it harder to fit the smaller steps in. Too little, and we lurched over the first fence and became unbalanced.

Since the strides were so short, there was no time for jump-recover-jump-recover etc. They were all set quite low anyways, so the key was to have truly independent aids- a light seat, leg supporting straightness, and a following hand that still maintained a contact. You know, all really basic stuff that is super easy and I can do in my sleep. HAH.

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Also unrelated, my adopted snarky barn mom/bestie

The last time through was definitely the best, and earned a “that looked downright educated!” from Trainer. We had a balanced powerful stride in, and I was able to stay light in the tack and allow Frankie to figure his legs out without needing to interfere. I’m really proud of him for figuring out the game and using his little brain to make adjustments for himself. We all know that despite his infinite good qualities, he isn’t the fastest thinker, so I’m always very pleased when he uses that noggin for activities other than finding snacks.

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Don’t let his cute face fool you, he is constantly on the lookout for snacks. Despite my No Snack Rule, I caved and gave him an apple that day for being such an excellent goober. Shhh don’t tell anyone.

Random side note- Trainer has decided that she wants pretty much all her actively competing riders to qualify for the VHSA Adult (or Children, as the case may be) Equitation Final this year (to quote her: “I have a bunch of really correct lovely riders, we should absolutely be doing some equitation”), so looks like we’ll be adding some local shows to our calendar to get points for that. We will literally be bringing the classes- you need 3 to fill and we have 3 of each- and Trainer knows all the local show managers, so they’ll be sure to hold the classes for us. To keep costs down, I’m also going to share Frankie with my favorite barn rat for her to do the Children’s while she horse hunts for her next jumper. He can do the 3′ in his sleep and LOVES that kid, so it’ll be a great way for us both to get some local miles without a hefty pricetag. It’ll be a really cool season with the combo of rated jumpers and local eq! We’re definitely keeping Frankie on his toes by asking for lots of different things.

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We discussed this during our weekly barn happy hour, which directly led to me saying SURE SIGN US UP FOR EVERYTHING jk we all know I don’t need alcohol to fuel my poor financial decisions

And just in case you thought you could make it through one dang post without me going all sappy on you, THINK AGAIN. I’ve been going through lots of old blog posts and pictures as I put together a year-end recap, and itΒ  fills me with so much gratitude that I get to go on all these fun adventures with Frankie. It was two short years ago when I made it around the 2′ puddle jumpers at my first rated jumper show, and daydreamed about getting to compete more often. I’m really having to pinch myself about what I’ve gotten to do with Frankie, and what exciting adventures we have coming up in the next year. Love my barn family (4-legged and 2-legged alike!) for helping me achieve things I never could’ve dreamed of!

 

Barrel Jumpers, Not Barrel Racers

It’s a double post day! Curse my poor planning. But I had such a great lesson, I just want to share it with y’all before the memories fade.

You may have noticed that it’s been a relatively quiet few weeks at the barn. After the pressure of preparing for team finals, we have taken a noticeable step back from our training.

I think that’s been more mental than anything else- I’m still lessoning every week, Francis is still getting at least one training ride every week, we went to a show and XC schooling and we’ve still been working hard.

But we also have not schooled any height since finals and my “homework” rides have been more about enjoying my pony than anything else. This week’s lesson was the first time that we played with tighter turns/combos/bigger fences since we went in for our last round at Culpeper.

And I think that taking a deep breath to relax was exactly what the doctor ordered. Our canter work felt balanced and adjustable, Frankie jumped out of his skin, he carried me forward through the combo, and felt really fresh the entire time (not like, sassy fresh, just energetic in a good way. Because Francis.) I didn’t have to find a spot to the jumps- we had such a great canter and so much adjustability that the spots came up to us. Funny how having the right canter makes everything better, right?

While warming up we did have a moment that warranted some strong correction: Frankie likes to dive left. Even if we’re on a nice straight track to the jump, he will throw himself left over the jump and then immediately fade left upon landing. If I let him. This time I booted him HARD with my spur off the left side as we were warming up, and lo and behold: my horse jumped a straight line. Correcting that firmly early on in our ride made him pay attention the rest of the time. And when we do that, we land our leads/get our changes!

We warmed up with a couple basic exercises, then Trainer jacked the jumps up and gave me this course:

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The first “jump” was just one of the brick walls we use as fill, without standards. Frankie was pretty sure that going around was the right answer, so I had to really over-ride this and get him balled up between my leg and hand. I sense more wingless jumps in our future.

Then it was down the single outside- this rode up wonderfully every time, since Frankie was carrying a lovely pace to flow up out of the corner. The short rollback to 3 was tough- I needed to get my left leg on HARD and then straighten with my left rein to get that to work.

Then the bending out over 4 was either a bent 5 stride, or a more direct galloping 4. The first time through I held for 5 and didn’t love it, so the next time I booted up for the 4 and LOVED IT SO MUCH OMG WE HAD FIRE IN OUR STEP.

Then it was down the faux coop- Trainer stacked some cavallettis and put some plywood sheets on them. My job upon landing was to control that left shoulder so that we actually had some straightness to ask for a change.

Then it was up the one-stride and I was honestly thrilled with that. I’ve mentioned before that Frankie tends to back off in combos and needs a ton of support from yours truly. But homeboy must’ve been feeling like a fancypants rockstar, because he galloped right up and carried me through like an absolute professional- even though the oxer out was a big lofty swedish.

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That one in the background. Frankie jump big!

Now for the fun part: it was a bending four strides from the green box down to the barrels. My trainer is a generally nice person, so these barrels were on their sides, with the fake bamboo acting as wings. But she hates me likes to challenge me, so she stood them up and said AIM STRAIGHT.

So I landed off the green fuzzy, locked on…and Francis did a drive by. I’ll be honest, it took us a couple tries to eventually make it over.

But I don’t really count this as a refusal. I genuinely think that Frankie did not realize that he was supposed to jump it. He wasn’t peeking hard or spooking or anything like that, he’s just always gone around the barrels in the ring instead of over. Once we made it over once (with the help of some guide poles), we had zero problem locking on and jumping it like a pro- even after we took the guide poles away. He’s not the fastest thinker in the world, but he is very willing once he understands the game.

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We started trying to get his ears up for the pictures, but AT said “this face is more true to his mood right now.” Poor, long suffering Francis.

Takeaways: we need to practice more wingless skinnies to test our steering! I need to be more active in telling him “yes this is a jump” and he needs to be paying attention enough to say “yes ma’am.”

Another takeaway is to let go and let my horse do his job. He’s so much more educated now and I can trust that education instead of needing to micromanage every step. We are going to be trying some new bits to take advantage of his buttons- remember I mentioned that I didn’t love the slow twist for shows? We’ve got some ideas to play around with so I’ll let you know what we end up using.

I do really wish we had gotten some video from this lesson. Not only did Frankie go SO well, but I had shortened my stirrups a hole. It was a revelation. Everything was better. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of bad habits went away. Like. Guys. The skies opened up and the angels sang. I would love to get a visual to see if it made as much of a difference as it felt like. If nothing else, I felt tons more secure in the tack so it’s for sure a win.

I’d also like to take some official confo shots of Francis soon, maybe this weekend. He got his first clip of the season and honestly AT did such a stupendous job that I want to capture it on camera. He looks like a stud. I also want to do a comparison- we’ve worked so hard on building muscle and developing him, I want to see if there’s a visible difference from last year. I also just want a million pictures of my horse, so sue me.

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His Coggins pic from the day we vetted him, March 2016. I def see a big difference in the shape of his body.

Your turn to share! What are some of the stranger looking jumps you’ve done lately?

Eq Lesson Recap

Alternate title: “Olivia, you’re not being timed right now.”

Francis and I were able to fit in an extra lesson this weekend to sharpen up some things, and I was super happy with the Beast. I mean, I’m always super happy with the Beast, but it’s really fun getting to push our comfort zone and work on some different stuff together.

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Unrelated but I’ve got some tall beefy men in my life and Manfriend is delightfully tolerant of the fact that I’m constantly staring at the horse.

Our flatwork involved a major focus on straightness, and riding off the rail to test that straightness. Francis has thoroughly figured out the leg-yield-to-the-rail game and we wanted to get him ACTUALLY listening to my cues instead of assuming he knew what was happening.

We also know that between him and me, our left turns are crap. I don’t know if I’m so lopsided that I’ve made him lopsided, if he was one-sided before and made me more one-sided, or if both of us were lopsided to start and we’ve just fed on each other. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, the fact remains that we are not ambiturners. We worked on a lot of serpentines with the intent to keep our turns smooth and consistent. No making angry faces and speeding up through the left turns because stepping under is hard.

We put some work in on our counter-canter as well, which I really enjoy working on with Frankie. I have to help him get those haunches out of the way around the turns, but he’s got good balance and it doesn’t feel too difficult for him. I’m pretty sure it’s just because he doesn’t care about being on the wrong lead, but I’ll take it. We talked about how I can set him up for it- come off the rail and ask for the bend like we’re turning back to the rail- and AT reminded me that pumping with my shoulders is not traditionally accepted as a canter transition aid. I GUESS.

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Literal death grip on the lead because Francis was throwing a tantrum about not being able to eat the grass.

 

On to jumping! Warmup over a little crossrail went relatively well- I’ll never be a huge fan of trot jumps, but we’re getting better at finding forward-but-not-running-at-it. Then a nice big bending line with a focus on straightness over and away from the jumps.

Then we started building our course! The jumps were set to mimic one of the Maclay Regionals- I love this time of year because we end up trying out all the medal courses and it’s a BLAST. We did a different course from the medal so we could focus on what we needed to try, but it was great nonetheless.

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We started out with the S-turn: red to gray Swedish oxer in 5 or 6, out over green skinny in 5 or 6. Either a 5 to a 5 or a 6 to a 6. We clearly did the 5 to 5 because Francis is a tank. Frankie has a tendency to bulge left so I pushed him right hard over the gray and he responded surprisingly well- so well, in fact, that the 5 out was a little tight because I wasn’t anticipating such a reaction. Happy to see progress there, even if it led to a closer spot out!

Then it was around to the outside line, set in 4 strides. I LOVED how this was set. My trainer is a huge fan of setting short lines for us to help that booty werk, but this one was set on a regular flowing stride. It was lovely. My only job was to keep both legs on so Frankie could stay straight through and land his lead.

Then it was two long approach oxers. Going down 6 was junky every time- either we ended up moving up to a gallop spot, which was adequate but not delightful- or we shortened to a smaller spot, which was fine but not as smooth as I’d like. Nothing disastrous or dramatic, just not as rhythmic as I was aiming for. Balancing through the end up to the gray Swedish the other way went fine every time.

Then it was come back to walk and counter-canter the long approach to blue oxer on the rail. For this I turned early to go between jumps 10 and 11, which set us up to “turn left” to the rail to more easily get the counter-lead. Francis jumped this blue one super cute every time.

The first time through the combo, Frankie assumed he wasn’t jumping it. We got through it just fine- homeboy can walk a 3′ jump- but he was pretty sure that there wasn’t a jump coming up out of that corner. Second time went much more smoothly. The five strides out over the oxer was set short, especially flowing out of a combo, but he sat back nicely for me.

Then it was just a simple rollback to the final vertical- the first time I went around jump 1 to get there, but then decided to go inside the next time. I need to remember to support strongly with that outside rein and leg around left turns to help him out, because we are much more balanced when we do that.

I liked this course a lot! It was a good test of our “togetherness” over a variety of questions. It’s refreshing to take a break from the get-it-done attitude and drill more into getting every piece polished and perfected.

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Short answer: yes

We’re not trying to qualify for anything or pursue a career in the equitation (literally already missing the jumper ring and I haven’t even done the eq yet)- this outing will be an opportunity to school my horse. Straightness ALWAYS over every jump. Forward pace without getting heavy on the forehand. But like, not too forward because OLIVIA YOU’RE NOT BEING TIMED. No need to rush anything. The eq courses at Culpeper are usually pretty hunterific so we can find our stride and let it flow around the course.

Frankie’s mane is pulled and ready for the braider, I have laced reins instead of rubber on my bridle, and we are feeling good about exploring a new ring together! I can’t wait to let you know how it goes and share pictures.